Time and Olive Oil Heal All Wounds

Now that I have returned to the United States (briefly) I have had a bit of time to reflect on my experiences in Greek culture. There are a few aspects of my experience that have stuck out more than others.

First is the emphasis on creation. The Greeks have achieved so much in the way of creation, even when they had no power tools or vehicles to aid them. I was constantly in awe of the beautiful creations made by ancient Greeks, and the abundance of these creations. Great temples like the Parthenon and the Temple of Zeus in Athens were breath-taking, not only because of their beauty, but because of the implication of hard work that went into their construction. It made me sad to realize how little we Americans have focused on creation just for the sake of creating, and how the focus is constantly on consumption, productivity, and ultimately money.  I was really in awe of the many ancient structures we had the opportunity to see. In some ways, it made me feel empowered. Surely if ancient civilizations could construct such great statues and temples, I can do anything.

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Another great perspective of this creation obsession was in the Orthodox churches. Churches were significantly more extravagant than any Christian church I have ever seen. I have mixed feelings on this. Part of me feels like God would not wish for his people to put such a focus on appearance and precious metals, but that God would want a simpler church and a focus on experience with God. However, another part of me was intrigued by the idea of the decoration as an act of worship. Putting large amounts of gold and silver in a church seems a bit sacrificial, as that gold and silver could have been used for personal benefit elsewhere. Also, putting all of that time and energy into manually decorating the church (especially with hand paintings) seems in itself an act of worship. It shows how dedicated the Orthodox church was. I still haven’t decided which feelings are strongest for me, and whether I like the extravagant churches or not.

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Another aspect of Greek culture that stuck out to me was the simplicity. People seemed to overall have less concerns. There was plenty of marketing, but materialism hadn’t taken over Greece the way it has taken over America. Maybe part of that is the hardships the Greeks have faced in recent years, but it was refreshing to see people so personable and not concerned with building huge mansions, owning tons of land, or swindling the most amount of money out of each other.

A major aspect of this trip that also stands out to me as I think back and reflect is the depth of Greek history. I found it very humorous when our tour guides referred to structures built before the birth of America as “modern”. Greece has had a much lengthier, richer history. Pre-established America has only genocide. It was so intriguing to dig so far back into history to before the times of Jesus and see 2400 year old temples and 2600 year old lions, and to dissect the complexity of ancient civilizations that evolved to today’s societies.

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Now, I am back in America (although I am currently 30 feet from the Caribbean Sea in the Virgin Islands….) and I will not be in the presence of such amazing things for a long time, and I already feel withdrawal. I think I have found a new hunger to observe and understand cultures so important and so ancient.

Thank you, Greece. It was real, and it was fun, and it was real fun. We out.

-Kate

Paintings, Pictures, and Pebbles

I am struggling to take the Greece out of my diet.

As all of us know by now, Greece tastes good! Even though I got deep fried in the intense Mediterranean sun, I had a fantastic time frolicking in the ancient ruins, eating pork gyros (yee-rows), and splashing around in the bright blue Aegean sea. It has been over a week since our return, and the taste of Greece is fading, but I will always have the pictures and the memories with me (unless I lose the pictures or get dementia).

To even begin to describe my experience in Greece is still difficult. The worst part of doing something fun is trying to explain your experience to others. Just as I expected, everyone that I have encountered since my trip has asked me the same question… “How was Greece?” Each time I start out by saying, “great!” And if they want to hear more, they usually will ask me something more specific. It seems impossible to put all three incredible weeks into a convenient answer that satisfies this good-natured question. If I’m being honest, I never really left Greece entirely.

I still carry with me the paintings, pictures and pebbles to remember each moment and monument that I encountered.

One of my biggest highlights of the trip was getting to see the workshop of one of the most famous iconographers in Greece. He created icons, which are paintings that are used in the Greek Orthodox Church. These paintings are holy works of art and are used as visual aids for worship in both liturgy and private devotion. Watching him paint was a beautiful and inspiring moment that I will always carry with me. I even was able to buy one of his icons, and he signed the back of it for me.

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This is the icon of Jesus that I purchased.

 

The paints he uses are very fine powders that he mixes with egg yolk. This creates a very thin, yet effective paint that he layers onto a handmade cloth canvas. It takes many layers to bring out the image. First you lay the darker colors, then lift the light from them. It is a delicate process that hasn’t changed since the Byzantine era.

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Here he is at work! The staff that he holds is used for stability as he paints, and it helps prevent his hand from growing tired.

This wasn’t the only experience I had with paintings while I was in Greece. As I walked around in Rhodes, I found a painting that piqued my interest. It reminded me of Jazz and creativity, so I bought it for only 27 euros. It will soon be hanging up proudly in my dorm room, and it will inspire me as I continue to write music. I will always have this painting as a memory of one of the most gorgeous cities I have ever visited.

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The painting I bought in Rhodes.

Besides the beautiful paintings that I carry with me, I have over 1000 photos from our stay in Greece. As a kid, my mom used to take so many photos. I never liked it, but she always told me that she wanted to remember what was happening. Now I understand what she means. Because I have so many photos, I was able to come home to my family and tell the story of Greece in great detail. They said that they felt like they were there with me, and it was because of the images that I have to remember my experience.

Lastly, I have taken with me a pebble from every city that we visited. I hope to create my own ebenezer out of these pebbles, because they are stones that help me remember where God has taken me. This trip was very expensive for me, and I took a big leap of faith by going, but God has supported me through every moment. Upon my return from Greece, I found out that I was receiving a church scholarship and an anonymous donation that combined to fulfill the exactly the amount of money that I paid for the trip… to the dollar! I know this is God’s hand in my life, and I am thankful that He has gone with me in every moment. If you respond the opportunities that God places in front of you, amazing things will happen. These rocks not only remind me of the places I have traveled, but they remind me of God’s love, faithfulness, and protection.

Although it has been difficult to leave Greece, there will always be a little Greece in my diet. Every painting, picture, and pebble will remind me of where I have been, and each will go with me on the many journeys to come.

ο Θεός να σε ευλογεί,

Austin White

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Week Later

One week later and I’m still missing the Greek life. This is a reflection post to try and put into words (and pictures!) what those 20 days in Greece were like. There were so many highlights that I don’t have time to post all of them… but I have listed a few of my favorites below.

Athens

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Athens was the place we spend the most overall time in and it was fabulous! Above is pictured the Acropolis with the Parthenon sitting on top. Acropolis comes from “Acro” meaning highest point and “polis” meaning of the city – so Acropolis means highest point of the city. We also visited Mars Hill which is where Paul was preaching in Athens and it had a wonderful view of the city. Our time in Athens was too short because in a city of 6 million people 3-4 days was not nearly enough time to explore it all. We saw a lot of graffiti and stray dogs in the city but overall I still really enjoyed the atmosphere of it all.

Food

The food was absolutely delicious! I basically lived off of gyros and souvlaki both foods I had never tried before. I tried a lot of foods that I would not normally eat also such as octopus from a local store in a fish market in Crete. There was a lot of great dessert too including my favorite, baklava. We were offered a lot of this free desert called loukoumi which uh… me and most people were not the biggest fans of. One of the trip goers describes it as “soap flavored”, but I think I was told it was an acquired taste. Overall though the food was amazing.

Greek Scenery/Views

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I can confirm right now that Greece is an absolutely beautiful country. Rolling hills and distant mountains on the mainland, and the majestic Mediterranean and Aegean Seas along the coast. Some of my favorite moments of the trip involved cresting a hill to reveal a picturesque view. I think my favorite view belongs to the Acrocorinth in Corinth. Which gave us a lovely 360 view of the surrounding area. Some other awesome views include the Meteora Monasteries perched up huge stone cliffs, and the blue water beaches of Rhodes.

Faith

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We saw some of the most beautiful churches in Greece. The Greek Orthodox churches were decorated with many icons and images of Jesus and the Saints. This imagery would be a constant theme throughout our time in Greece. We did see however a variety of religious traditions including a lot of statues and fresco’s dedicated to the ancient Greek God’s. We visited monasteries in Meteora which had the most intricate paintings and wood carvings I have ever seen.

Everything else?

This was just a very little taste of the Greek experience. I would highly recommend traveling there yourself and maybe getting yourself some great tour guides like we had because they were very knowledgeable about the different sites and the history behind them. We had a really great group and some great professors that helped make the trip very special. Anything else you might want to know about Greece should be experienced firsthand. So go.

~Nathan

A Trip to Remember

Well what can I say, Greece was such an amazing experience that I am so happy I was able to partake in. I learned so much and saw so many amazing things. It was incredible going from place to place, seeing the sights and hearing about the history and the ruins. It was crazy that so many places we went to, Paul had been there too. There is just not that kind of history here at home, so it was incredible to be a part of that and seeing where he was.

While all of the tours were very cool, one of the things I loved to see as we moved from place to place was the culture of Greece. I was so happy we had free time at each place to walk around. I loved being able to experience each place that we visited on our own, whether it was going to restaurants, going shopping, or simply walking around. Going out to experience it yourself is just so much better than any description that can be given.

One of my objectives was to branch out of my comfort zone a little on this trip, whether it was talking to new people, or experiencing something new. Honestly this whole trip for me was stepping out of my comfort zone. I am not much of a traveler, so after accomplishing that, the rest was simple. I had already traveled to Greece, after that meeting new people and experiencing the culture was easy. One of the things that came in handy on this trip was just going with the flow. It helped a lot. My roommate , her name is also Makayla, actually started saying “It’s fine, everything’s fine” during the trip, and it stuck (this also happens to be the title of her blog post). Soon a lot of us were saying it, and it was true, everything was fine.

I realize there is no way I can put all of this trip into words. It was just an amazing experience and words do not do it justice. While writing this and thinking back to all of the memories, I am missing it a little extra right now. I’m missing the scenery, the culture, the history, the people, and surprisingly, I miss the constant traveling (but only a little bit). I will say that one of the things I will miss the most will be the people I met. I made so many good friends on this trip, and I am so sad it had to end. Now I know some of you might be thinking “won’t she just see them again when school starts back up?” however unfortunately that is not true for me. See I am transferring from Messiah College. Nothing against the school, I had so many great experiences there, and I definitely feel like God wanted me to be at Messiah College for the past two years, but after praying about it, and thinking about it for a long time, I just felt like I needed to be somewhere else, which was a very hard decision to make. So any way, knowing this, the ending of the trip was very sad for me. I will miss everyone I met on this trip, even though I will do my best to keep in touch :) There isn’t any other way I would have wanted to end my time at Messiah College then this way, visiting one of the countries I have always wanted to visit surrounded by such wonderful people.

 

-Makayla Mullikin

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It’s Fine. Everything is Fine.

***In reference to my previous blog, I wanted to let you know that I am currently writing my final blog from Starbucks in New York, completely content with my delicious Cold Brew, sludge-free coffee:)
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Perhaps if you accompanied me on this trip, you may have read the title of this blog and laughed. Regardless, I will take this opportunity to reflect on my time in Greece from the perspective of a traveler with tendencies to be rather high-maintenance.

What if we are late? Did I forget something at the hotel? Are you sure we have all thirty students?

These are all thoughts that may have run through my mind at the beginning of the trip. I also may have repeatedly attempted to stealthily count how many students were with us in our group even if the professors had already done so. Perhaps these are tendencies instilled in me from previous experiences traveling or at summer camp… or I might just be slightly high-maintenance.

I intentionally made a mental goal for myself to try to be as low-maintenance as possible and to simply enjoy a stress-free trip. In order to do so, I made it a priority to use the mantra, “It’s fine. Everything’s fine.” if a relatively stressful or unexpected situation arose. I made this statement quite frequently, but not to fear—we came back to JFK with all thirty students and wonderful memories!

Flying back to JFK

About a week into the trip I came to a realization that I had never fully understood before… there is so much beauty in the unexpected! Perhaps being slightly lost in the middle of Thessaloniki was not what I had expected. Maybe the intense waves underneath our overnight ferry or the olives which we thought were chocolate chips in our pastries were not exactly what we had expected, but what memories we now have!

Slightly lost in Thessaloniki...

In a separate assignment for which we were asked to reflect on our experiences before the end of the trip, I primarily wrote about how this trip taught me to take on life with a mentality of curiosity toward the unexpected. Sure, it is definitely important to make plans (otherwise we would have wandered aimlessly through Greece for three weeks), however micromanagement is not realistic.

This takes me to my theological connection.

I am the daughter of two pastors who have always provided me with an unconditional amount of unbiased theological discussions and resources. I have also continuously received guidance from a plethora of others who have shared me with a wealth of knowledge. I wouldn’t say that I began this theology course with it all figured out—but I definitely thought I had more figured out than I do now.

Our final lecture was about philosophy and the story about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of Socrates. To give the “SparkNotes version”, Socrates realized how many people believed that they were wise, yet he believed that he was not wise because there was so much that he did not know, despite the fact that today we regard him as one of the most influential philosophers of all time.

I had a discussion in an airport with the professors about halfway through the trip because I wanted to know their thoughts about other beliefs and eternity. I won’t give you the specifics of the conversation but I will tell you what Dr. Putt told me… “at best we are partially correct and at worst, we are completely wrong.” These words resonated with me because I have always had a hard time understanding a common, but unfortunate belief that Christianity is the only correct religion and everyone else is wrong.

This trip challenged me to challenge myself and my hermeneutics. I realized that faith has never been a struggle for me because I had grown up with tons of Christian affirmation. For the first time in my life during this trip I thought, what if I am completely wrong? It was at that moment that I understood faith for the first time. I realized that I have faith that there is a God. I realized that I have faith that there is a good, loving, non-violent God. Do I know this for certain? No, but I have faith and it is because of my faith that I do not doubt the goodness of my God.

This brings me back to the unexpected. I did not expect to contemplate all of my beliefs to the point of thinking that everything I knew was wrong. I also did not expect to receive all of the spiritual guidance that I had received throughout this trip. I learned in the most powerful way, to step back and enjoy the beauty of the unexpected. God cannot be micromanaged. God is unexpected. The unexpected is beautiful. It is because of His goodness and divinity that in any unexpected situation I can truly say that it is fine; everything’s fine, because God is in control.

Admiring the beauty of creation from the top of the Acrocorinth

We as human beings cannot even begin to define an unfathomable God. As believers, we must commit to a lifetime of learning and totally challenging everything that we know. We must grasp onto only the most fundamental of beliefs, which is what we call faith, and take on everything else with nothing but a spirit of curiosity and humility. When we understand how much we do not know, we will have the capacity to embrace all human beings, regardless of our differences and beliefs, with love just as God does.

Paintings, Pictures, and Pebbles

I am struggling to take the Greece out of my diet. As all of us know by now, Greece tastes good! Even though I got deep fried in the intense Mediterranean sun, I had a fantastic time frolicking in the ancient ruins, eating pork gyros (yee-rows), and splashing around in the ...


One Week Later

One week later and I'm still missing the Greek life. This is a reflection post to try and put into words (and pictures!) what those 20 days in Greece were like. There were so many highlights that I don't have time to post all of them... but I have listed ...


A Trip to Remember

Well what can I say, Greece was such an amazing experience that I am so happy I was able to partake in. I learned so much and saw so many amazing things. It was incredible going from place to place, seeing the sights and hearing about the history and the ...


It’s Fine. Everything is Fine.

***In reference to my previous blog, I wanted to let you know that I am currently writing my final blog from Starbucks in New York, completely content with my delicious Cold Brew, sludge-free coffee:) Perhaps if you accompanied me on this trip, you may have read the title of this blog ...


Missin’ You Greece

This trip was something that I will truthfully never forget. I learned so much and experienced even more. It was so great to find myself being a piece of a culture so different from my own. Starting to learn the language and recognize words, knowing what I want to order ...